Creekside Church
Sermon of March 28, 2021

"Save Us!"
Mark 11:1-11

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! As you almost certainly know, we are standing on the threshold of Holy Week. A week which begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and crowds waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” and ends with a day which Christians call Good Friday. It could only have gotten that name with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what happened two days later on Easter Sunday, because it wasn’t a good day. The torture, crucifixion and death of Christ was a dark day for the disciples, friends of Jesus, and indeed for all of Creation. It was a day when, despite being God-in-flesh and one with the Father, Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Over the past six weeks we have been hearing biblical stories and music and testimony about God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. We have shared the conviction that God is with us and God has gone before us and God is working for our good. The foundation of what they believed had to be tested for the disciples and for Jesus himself. I want to talk more about those events and what they mean for us, and I want to begin by sharing my own testimony. I started by asking myself, Where would I be without Jesus Christ? Maybe it’s a question you’ve considered for yourself. If you haven’t, it would be good food for thought in the coming week. Where would I be without Jesus Christ? Not here, standing in front of you, for sure. I can’t remember a time in my life when I was not aware of Jesus Christ, at least in a conceptual way. I was raised in a Christian family, church-going in the sense of that phrase which goes way beyond Christmas Eve and Easter: whenever the doors of the church we open, we were there. And Mom had a key, so the door was opened whenever something needed to be done. Which was often. Church-going was important to my family, but my parents also took seriously the Brethren conviction of no force in religion: I knew that accepting Christ was my own decision, and I resisted pressure from people who wanted me to make that decision before I was ready. I was skeptical of the camp counselor who tried to get me to commit to by asking, “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d be spending eternity?” I was pretty sure God was not going to smite me dead in my sleeping bag because of adolescent hesitation. And I was unmoved by the youth leader who aired the film “Left Behind” about the tragedies of the apocalypse. Scaring the hell out of teenagers didn’t square with my concept of giving my life to Christ. So I remained seated while my cabinmates were streaming into the campfire circle, and stayed dry while my peers were being baptized. I held back, because I knew committing my life to Christ was a big decision and a decision that no one else could make for me. I made that decision at age 16, and I’ve never looked back, although I have done plenty of stumbling and taken some detours along the way.

My call to ministry was similar. I have colleagues who have experienced their call as a dramatic event, a voice from God which hits them like a lightning bolt. I had encouragement, especially from my husband Tim, but I had reservations, too. I didn’t really want to be set apart from other people; I wanted to be like other people and to be liked by them. When I began as a solo pastor at Creekside, I often heard affirmation of previous pastors: Pastor David was so good at this; Pastor Janet always did this; Pastor Elizabeth did it this way. I was fortunate to have these people as models and mentors for ministry, but here is something I have come to realize: ministry is a deeply personal thing. Let me unpack that a bit: I do NOT mean that ministry is private -- something secret between me and God. I do NOT mean that as a pastor I should not be subject to observation or evaluation, or that ministry is somehow exempt from the usual standards and expectations of professionalism and excellence. What I mean by ministry being personal is that there has not been a single week -- and not very many days -- when I have not been challenged to bring who I am and the gifts which God has given me to what I do. Pastoral ministry has stretched me in ways that I could not have imagined when I started seminary in 2005. I bring different things than other pastors; I am my own person. One of my favorite professors had a phrase which comes back to me often, “In the economy of God, nothing is wasted.” God can use whatever we have to offer: our past experiences, good and bad, our education, the years we spent at home with young children, the years we spent working away from home to support our family, our hobbies, the things which give us joy. God wants it all. God uses all if it, if we allow ourselves to share it. And God is entitled to all of it.

The folks lining the streets of Jerusalem waving palms and throwing their cloaks on the ground were shouting “Hosanna! Save us!” This was almost certainly a political statement, a slogan not so different than Black Lives Matter. I’m sure there was plenty of anti-Roman sentiment in this parade -- a hope that Jesus would overthrow and defund the Empire which was strangling the people: literally with Roman violence, and figuratively with taxation. But I’m sure there was also a longing for these people, as there is from all people, to know that their lives have value and meaning, despite being used and discarded by a huge and uncaring political system. It is a human need to know that our lives matter, especially if our society tells us otherwise. The gift of ministry for me -- it doesn’t have to be pastoral ministry, but being a pastor is the way I have been called to use my gifts--the gift of every ministry is that we know that through the grace of Jesus Christ, our lives matter. My gifts make a difference. God can use me even though I am far from perfect, because God is faithful. Not me. Because God is faithful, I have the opportunity of a lifetime and of eternity to be part of the kingdom of God.

There are many lenses we can look through to try to understand the events of Holy Week and the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. There is not one singular story which is the “right” answer. The account of the crucifixion of Jesus is in all four gospels, and each of the gospel writers tells that story through a different lens of conviction and for a different audience. The Jesus of John’s gospel would never have said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There are theologies which emphasize the wrath of God or the love of God or Christ as victim or Christ as victor. That is part of the richness of the account of Christ’s crucifixion and death, and its significance to Christianity. We don’t need to strip that richness of narrative and tradition away and demand that everyone subscribe to the same version of the atonement.

But as we step into Holy Week, this is what I want to leave you with in light of my own testimony. Jesus Christ saves us. We cannot save ourselves by good behavior, good works, or any other thing we’re pretty good at. It may be that Christ saves us from ourselves -- from our own worst impulses and actions; but in my experience, Christ saved me for myself. My salvation is a sign that my life matters, first and foremost to Christ my Savior, and also to God in whose image I am made. I am worth the sacrifice which Jesus made, his suffering and death. I am worth it not because I am worthy, but because I am loved. But I am saved not only for myself; I am saved for the sake of other people. I am saved so that my gifts can be used to minister to others -- whatever those gifts are and however I am able to use them. I am saved so that I can experience the gifts I receive from others, when I am too sick or weary or distracted or lost to find the way on my own. I am saved to be part of the bigger plan of the kingdom of God. I am saved a sign of God’s covenant and God’s faithfulness, and as a sign of Christ’s grace, because every life matters, no matter how flawed. Even mine.

I make this suggestion every year, but I will say it once again. I know there is a lot to do during Holy Week: cinnamon rolls to bake, houses to clean, Easter baskets to assemble, flowers to pick up and gift bags to pass out. In our preparations for Easter it is tempting to jump over the events of Holy Week. When we do that, we miss the crux of the story: if we skip to the ending, we miss how our characters got there, why Sunday morning begins with women grieving in the pre-dawn darkness. If we don’t know the story of Holy Week, we rob the ending of Easter of its power.

There are accounts of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion in each of the four gospels: Matthew Chapters 26 and 27, Mark Chapters 14 and 15, Luke Chapters 22 and 23, and John Chapters 18-19. If you participate in the Tenebrae service this Thursday evening, you will hear readings from Luke’s gospel. Make time in the coming week, in the midst of all your other tasks, to read at least one of these gospel accounts. You don’t have to read it all at one sitting: take a chapter a day for Mon Tues and Wed, or whatever works best for you. It’s a story you’ve heard before, but each of the gospels tells it a bit differently. It is a story we need to be reminded of every year before we celebrate Easter: the story of Jesus and his sacrifice, of a rugged cross and eternal salvation, and how we are saved by the grace of Christ. May God bless you this Holy Week. Our Easter celebrations next week will be more meaningful when we understand what we lost and what we have gained. Amen.

 

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